I’ve no idea why Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World has played over and over in my mind this past month as I’ve considered Madelynn Curtis Nelson. My experience with Madelynn was limited to a half dozen or so times together in the church nursery. Most of those Sunday nights, it was just me and Madelynn and Lucy, her baby sister.
Can I tell you what it was like to share a few hours with this three year old?
There was this fish tank where she often stood, sometimes just staring silently for longer than I felt comfortable. Because at first, you know, we were such strangers and she in many ways had lived longer than me. The deepness in her eyes told me so. It told me that she knew her sickness.
But there was also my cell phone that she quickly knew would play Frozen songs. She introduced me to them all. I’d seen the movie in the theater once. And yet I’d never joined in singing. Madelynn convinced me to try out my voice and taught me to dance.
I taught Madelynn how to make necklaces out of yarn and Cheerios.
It was like this every time we were together, a juxtaposition of concentration and play, an interchange of giving and receiving.
I probably do not need to tell you that she gave me more than I gave her. Madelynn had neuroblastoma, a type of cancer. As was suggested by her family, I wore her favorite color purple to her funeral. I still have my little owl ribbon from that day. I still see Team Madelynn tshirts out and about in Columbia. I’m still a member of her facebook prayer group. I still wish that time could be rewritten into a truly wonderful world.
For September Child Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to honor Madelynn. Her mom Amanda graciously agreed to meet me for a little interview. Sitting with me at that Panera table, Amanda had just finished a full shift at Men’s Wearhouse, but she did not rush me. She let me ask any and every question I had. We discovered neither of us had a prescribed agenda. I found a stillness in Amanda that I believe comes only after great suffering. And I remember vividly the two words she used to describe cancer: pure torture.
But it was not child cancers that we talked the most about. You can find the research statistics. You know funding needs increasing. Amanda can tell you of places to give. But the word Amanda spoke most about was awareness, a life of awareness. Are you aware of the people around you? Are you aware of their stories? Are you aware of their needs? There was a slowness about our conversation that I wish that I could transfer to my daily pace of living. Louis Armstrong sang about that, too.
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you
Meals and money and prayers and cards and t-shirts and neighborhood balloon displays all meant something to the Nelson family. Amanda hopes Team Madelynn keeps living that kind of life of awareness and giving.
I see purple owls, Clemson tigers, too.
I hear Disney songs, and I dance like I’m two.
Then I think to myself – What a wonderful girl.